Skin Lane by Neil Bartlett
Publisher: Serpent’s Tail Books
Release Date: 22 March 2007
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
At forty-seven, Mr. F’s working life on London’s Skin Lane is one governed by calm, precision, and routine. So when he starts to have recurring nightmares, he does his best to ignore them. The images that appear in his dreams are disturbing—Mr. F can’t think of where they have come from. After all, he’s an ordinary middle-aged man.
As London’s backstreets begin to swelter in the long, hot summer of 1967, Mr. F’s nightmares become an obsession. A chance encounter adds a face to the body that nightly haunts him, and the torments of his restless nights lead him—and the reader—deeper into a terrifying labyrinth of rage, desire, and shame.
Part fairy-tale, part compelling evocation of a now-lost London, this is Neil Bartlett’s fiercest piece of writing yet: cruel, erotic, and tender.
Gay Character Portrait
Fuck. I don’t know what to say. Jeeeez. This book gutted me, in a good way. The last pages – OMG – made me spill all the tears. I am deeply touched.
From the very beginning, Skin Lane, pulls the reader in with such rich atmosphere and feeling of place and time. This book is very intimate – haven’t read such an auctorial and close narration in maybe ever – and takes us deep into one man’s inner life.
The author lulls us in with his smart and gentle story-telling and we follow him blindly into London in the year 1967. On an on he describes the routines of Mr. F, who is a furrier on Skin Lane, his way to work, his thoughts, his dull, for decades long, same old life; only to grab us – out of the blue – with a simple word, a simple sentence, that contains so much promise and foreboding.
Mr. F’s life is disrupted by a recurring dream of a young man, hanging naked in his bathroom. While he tries to make sense of it, to find the man whose face he cannot see, the story spirals into obsession, into dark places within himself, into…
That is for you to find out. To know too much will spoil the reading experience, so I’m gonna stop and leave you with this short teaser here:
Everything was the same.
But the man who heard the front door click shut behind him so loudly, and who then stood aimlessly in the hallway of his flat with the key still in his hand for several silent minutes, was not. The suit was identical – but this is surely not the same man who we met at the beginning of our story. Tonight, as he goes into his bedroom and stares at himself in his wardrobe mirror, he barely even recogises himself. He cannot account for himself; he cannot describe what he sees. If what he is feeling is a disease, then why is it that he no longer wants to be cured? If it is grief he feels (grief, that distorts his staring face), then it must be grief at losing something he’s never had – he thinks (maybe it’s just the light in here) that he can see his face burning with shame – but for what? For what, exactly? Looking at the unmade bed behind him, he remembers waking up, twisted in those very same sheets, his mouth distorted by a kiss.
I feel like talking about this book much more.
I want to write so much more.
Why I was so touched.
What I’m thinking about the ending.
How I was challenged.
How it left me behind in the end.
So come find me, once you’ve read it, too, so we can compare our thoughts and share the love and grief and hope.
A note: This book is not available as an eBook. I bought a paperback – a used one because it was cheaper – which I never do. I regret nothing.
Born in 1958, Neil Bartlett has spent twenty-five years at the cutting edge of British gay culture. His ground-breaking study of Oscar Wilde, Who Was That Man? paved the way for a queer re-imagining of history ; his first novel, Ready To Catch Him Should He Fall, was voted Capital Gay Book of The Year; his second, Mr Clive and Mr Page, was nominated for the Whitbread Prize. Both have since been translated into five European languages. Listing him as one of the country’s fifty most significant gay cultural figures, the Independent said “Brilliant,beautiful, mischievous; few men can match Bartlett for the breadth of his exploration of gay sensibility”. He also works as a director, and in 2000 was awarded an OBE for services to the theatre.
With Skin Lane, Bartlett further demonstrates his skills as a creative polymath of the highest order.
Affectionately evoked… always apt and precise… Skin Lane grips with real force
Skin Lane welds itself to your hands from first to last. Textured, teeming with menace and, at the end, deeply moving, it is an extremely fine piece of writing.
Original, disturbing and… beautifully written, this is an always fascinating work.
A potent fable about the destructive power of lust and an unsettling psychological study in the manner of Patricia Highsmith.